Senior Writer

Comfortable Henson poised for big breakout for Tar Heels


CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- John Henson figured he could do it because Roy Williams figured he could do it, and if a Hall of Fame coach has enough confidence in your skill set to move you away from the basket despite the fact that you're 6-feet-10, well, then you must be the next Kevin Durant.

Or not.

John Henson is much more at ease with his back to the basket. (Getty Images)  
John Henson is much more at ease with his back to the basket. (Getty Images)  
"It's not as easy as it looks," acknowledged Henson, now a sophomore at North Carolina. "You see guards out there dribbling and shooting, and you start to think you can do it, too."

But you can't. I mean, Durant can. But he's the reigning NBA scoring champion and Most Valuable Player of the FIBA World Championship, a freak of nature and the exception to the rule. Durant is long and lean and more comfortable on the perimeter than in the paint. Henson is two of those things but not the third, and those who didn't know it this time last year learned it quickly once the season started. Henson was asked to play away from the basket, mostly because the Tar Heels had too many other true bigs -- Ed Davis, Deon Thompson, Tyler Zeller, Travis and David Wear, etc. -- on the roster.

"John was learning a new position," Zeller said. "He didn't know what to do."

Or how to do it.

So Henson struggled. In limited out-of-position minutes, he struggled. This elite prospect, widely regarded as the nation's top-ranked power forward in the Class of 2009, never seemed (in my mind) or felt (in his mind) comfortable as a small forward. Henson reached double-figures in scoring just once in UNC's first 21 games while the only three freshmen ranked ahead of him -- Georgia Tech's Derrick Favors and Kentucky teammates John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins -- were on their way to becoming top five picks in the 2010 NBA Draft. But then Zeller got hurt, as did Davis and one of the Wear twins. It was bad for North Carolina but good for Henson, who flourished with extra minutes closer to the goal. Consider: Henson averaged 3.9 points and 3.0 rebounds through his first 25 games mostly away from the basket; he averaged 9.7 points and 7.9 rebounds through his final 12 games mostly near the basket.

Now Thompson and Davis are professionals and the Wears Twins have transferred to UCLA. That leaves Zeller, Henson and Alabama transfer Justin Knox as the lone bigs on the roster. Which means Henson's days on the wing are over. Which means Henson is about to experience a breakout season.

That's my prediction.

Henson will average more than 25 minutes per game, a double-double per game and he might lead the ACC in blocked shots, too. He'll go from the biggest disappointment of last season's freshman class to the biggest star of this season's sophomore class. He'll do it while helping the Tar Heels make the NCAA tournament and erase from everybody's minds last season's disaster that resulted in an NIT appearance, and he'll do it all because of one simple reason.

"I'm back down low," Henson said. "I think it's going to be a great transition, and hopefully I can do big things."

As a big.

Just like he should've been doing all along.

Gary Parrish is a senior college basketball columnist for and frequent contributor to the CBS Sports Network. The Mississippi native also hosts the highest-rated sports talk radio show -- The Gary Parrish Show -- in the history of Memphis. He lives in that area with his wife, two children and a dog.

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